Home The Cushing Center Explore the Collections Discovery Drawers

Discovery Drawers

Discovery Drawers

Explore 22 drawers below the display cases to reveal medical history through anatomy, instruments, and histology materials.

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1T Chinese Acupuncture set

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These gifts are from Sven Hedin (1865-1952), a Swedish explorer, writer, and geographer, as well as a patient, and later friend, of Dr. Cushing. Cushing received the Chinese acupuncture charts, scale, medical box, and other items while at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston between 1929 and 1932. The text on the scale roughly translates: “It tastes bitter, but it is good for your health.”

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1B Visitor Mementos and Thank You Notes

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Visitors to the Cushing Center come from all over the world and leave a variety of comments and drawings in our guest books. These messages attest to the diversity of responses to the collection.

Visitors, especially student groups, sometimes send mementos and thank you notes to the Cushing Center Coordinator, Terry Dagradi, who offers tours of the Center. Among the items Terry has received on behalf of the Center are photographs from Japan, poems, sunglasses, calendars, sketches, and many beautifully illustrated thank you notes from school children, some of which are on display here. Review and sign our guestbook by the entrance and become an honorary member of the Brain Society


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2T A Grateful Patient and Friend

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Sven Hedin (1865-1952), a Swedish explorer, writer, and geographer, was a patient of Dr. Cushing in 1929. Cushing and Hedin quickly became friends, and Cushing travelled to Sweden to see Hedin in 1929. During his visit, Cushing toured the Royal Library in Stockholm and admired an early 15th century surgical manuscript by John of Arderne. Hedin had the parchment roll copied by the Swedish artist Carl Olausson and presented it to Cushing for Christmas in 1929. The Medical Historical Library digitized this roll in 2018, which is freely available online.

“Dear Sven: The marvelous copy of the Arderne MS that you have had made for me in celebration, I presume of the operation I did not perform on your spinal marrow, has come just in time for Christmas. And such a present! . . . which will always remain by far the most precious item in my library, doubly precious not only in its intrinsic value but because of its association for me with you and your sisters.” -Letter to Sven Hedin from Harvey Cushing, December 23, 1929

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2B The Making of a Library

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The Medical Historical Library was the vision of Harvey Cushing, who joined with his two friends and fellow bibliophiles, Arnold C. Klebs (top right) and John F. Fulton (top center), in what they called their “Trinitarian plan” to donate their superb book collections to Yale if Yale would build a place to house them. Cushing was the driving force persuading Yale officials to realize his vision, although he died before the library was built. The Yale Medical Library (now the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library) was built through 1940 and officially dedicated in 1941. Madeline E. Stanton, Cushing’s secretary, was the first librarian of the Historical Library collection.


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3T “Seeing” the Brain

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Cushing and his colleagues developed various methods for “seeing” the brain. As an artist, Cushing quickly sketched his entry into the brain following operations. He also carefully drew this image mapping parts of the brain to different parts of the body. Other ways of capturing brain images include glass mounts and slides with actual pieces of tissue for analysis and study. This very unusual photograph in the Cushing brain tumor registry shows a brain carefully placed on a stool.

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3B Photography

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While Dr. Cushing enjoyed taking photographs, his hospitals employed photographers such as Elsa Rowell (above) to take pictures of his patients. Ernest Fewkes (right), another staff photographer, was well known for his careful preparation of medical lantern slides. Dr. Walter Boyd (center) was Cushing’s student during his internship and residency in Boston, and took many photographs of Cushing, hospital staff, physicians, and other individuals.

Elsa Rowell photograph by Richard U. Light, courtesy of the Harvard Medical School Archives at the Countway Library of Medicine.


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4T Pathways and Places

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Harvey Cushing was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Yale University as an undergraduate, living in this room he sketched out in a letter to his family (left). After graduating from Yale in 1891, Cushing went to Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, followed by a residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (above). He stayed at Johns Hopkins until 1912, and became a disciple and friend of Sir William Osler, considered one of the great bedside doctors of this time. In 1912 Cushing returned to Harvard Medical School as Professor of Surgery, and he became Surgeon-in-chief to Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1913 (upper right). In 1933, Cushing moved back to New Haven as Sterling Professor of Neurology at Yale, until his death in 1939.

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4B Pituitary Disorders and Acromegaly

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In 1901, Dr. Cushing met with a young, short, underdeveloped woman suffering from headaches, backaches, and failing vision. He operated on her three times but failed to find the tumor overlying her pituitary gland, which produces hormones regulating growth and sexual development. Cushing developed a strong interest in these types of tumors, and surgically treated patients like this young farmer, who suffered from acromegaly, a condition that includes intense growth related to increased growth hormone. Often, bones grow to great sizes, like the x-rayed hand shown above. Cushing operated on his patient in 1909. In this 1926 letter, the farmer, now a married man, mentions using thyroid treatment to help manage his symptoms.


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5T Medical Innovations

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Dr. Cushing introduced a variety of medical innovations and tools to help patients survive brain surgery. With fellow Harvard medical student Ernest Codman, Cushing created a chart to reliably record anesthesia during operations (top left). He was an early adopter of monitoring blood pressure during neurosurgery using the Riva-Rocci Sphygmomanometer, which he encountered and drew during a trip to Italy in 1901. Cushing introduced a silver clip in 1911 to stem bleeding in the brain during operations, as seen in the photograph of a brain specimen and the x-ray above. He also used a tourniquet of strong rubber tubing to encircle the head during operations and control bleeding. In the late 1920s, Cushing demonstrated use of William Bovie’s electrosurgical tool (center) to a delighted Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, who carved his name in a steak that now resides in a jar in the Cushing Center.

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5B Harvey Cushing as Book Collector

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Cushing turned to book collecting at the start of his career, with a special love of books on early medicine, anatomy, and surgery. Cushing particularly collected the works of Andreas Vesalius, who in 1543 published De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, popularly known as the Fabrica, one of the most important anatomical books of the Renaissance. To mark ownership of his books, Cushing had a bookplate designed in 1895, with different versions that can found in many of rare books in the Medical Historical Library today.


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6T Still Open for Research

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Dr. Maya Lodish, Dr. Dennis Spencer, and medical student Cynthia Tsay used the Cushing brain tumor registry to find new information about a very old case. The team removed tissue samples from the brains and tumors of several of Cushing’s patients from the early 1900s, then extracted DNA and sequenced the relevant genes. The team was excited to find a genetic link between one of Cushing’s patients, who was discussed in this 1927 book, and a particular kind of pituitary disease. The link meant they had identified the oldest documented case of an individual with Carney complex, a rare syndrome first described in 1985, long after Cushing’s death. Their results were published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society in October 2017.

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6B With the Help of Many

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Many medical professionals intersected with Dr. Cushing, his patients, his research, and work in Baltimore and Boston. Going clockwise, Catherine Richards, RN, (bottom left) was a neurosurgical nurse who supported Cushing during surgery. Aldoph Watzka, hospital orderly, assisted Cushing and his patients for over twenty years during hundreds of operations. Members of the Pathology Department, including Brain tumor registry co-founder Dr. Louise Eisenhardt, reviewed numerous tumor specimens. Likewise, members of the Radiology Department helped interpret x-rays of Cushing’s patients. Gertrude Gerard, RN, was Cushing’s anesthetist beginning in 1916. Surgical staff, interns, and residents cycled through Cushing’s life, training with him and performing surgeries under his eye.

Dr. Walter Boyd took these photographs during his internship and residency with Cushing in Boston.


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7T Publications and Biographies

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Dr. Cushing was a prolific writer over his lifetime, with 14 books and over 300 articles documented in his published bibliography. He also won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for his two-volume biography of esteemed mentor and friend Sir William Osler. Cushing, his life, and his work are the subject of hundreds of articles and multiple biographies, including one by his friend and Medical Historical Library co-founder, Dr. John Fulton.

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7B Creating the Cushing Center

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Creating the Cushing Center took over 15 years, from the resurgence of interest in the collection in the 1990s to the opening of the Cushing Center during Alumni Weekend in June 2010. Attention to the Cushing brain tumor registry grew, in part due to medical student Christopher Wahl’s (‘96 MD) thesis about the collection, and a large exhibition he curated in the Medical Library’s foyer before the Cushing Center was built.


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8T What do the Eyes Reveal?

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In a 1909 lecture, Dr. Cushing stated that with tumors, “The diagnosis is written on the patient’s retina if not on his face.” Cushing often relied on evidence from patient photographs, eye exams, and visual fields and acuity tests to help detect brain tumors. He realized that patients presenting with vision loss might have a brain tumor or a tumor on the pituitary gland, which underlies the optic chiasm, where the optic nerves from each eye.

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8B Dr. Max Brödel and Medical Illustration

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Dr. Cushing studied with Dr. Max Brödel (1870-1941) who developed a two-tone drawing technique using carbon dust and Stipple board. In 1898, Brödel began his career at John Hopkins School of Medicine as the personal illustrator for Dr. Howard Kelly. He became head of “Art as Applied to Medicine” in 1911, the first medical illustration department in the world. Brödel was also the founder of the Association of Medical Illustrators. He illustrated surgical procedures such as Cushing performing a transsphenoidal hypophysectomy using an incandescent head lamp to illuminate the surgical site. Cushing drew this gunshot wound to the brain in 1900 (bottom right).


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9T Harvey Cushing in the Great War, 1915-18

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While he was teaching at the Harvard Medical School, Cushing went to France twice to oversee a surgical unit during the first World War. He operated on the wounded, especially those with head injuries. He meticulously recorded his experience in a set of diaries, currently located in Medical Historical Library.

Harvey Cushing’s 1917 article, “A Study of a Series of Wounds Involving the Brain and Its Enveloping Structures,” clearly depicts what happens to a metal helmet hit by a piece of shell, like the one on display. While these helmets could help protect the head from gunfire, the advanced weaponry in the Great War easily pierced the metal. Next to the helmet is a piece of shell from the bombing of the cathedral of Reims, France in September 1914, brought home by Cushing.


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10T Mildred Codding, Medical Illustrator

Read more Mildred Codding (1902-1991) was Dr. Cushing's medical illustrator from 1928 until his retirement from the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1932. She trained as a medical illustrator at Johns Hopkins University under Dr. Max Brödel, the pioneer of the “carbon dust” technique commonly used in 20th century medical and scientific illustrations. Codding quickly sketched during operations, seen on the right of this photograph of Cushing operating on a patient.


This sketch and proof reveal a portion of the process by which Mildred Codding and Dr. Cushing worked together to prepare illustrations for publication. Subtle changes can be identified between the drafts, and a note in pencil by Dr. Cushing in the margins of the sketch reads: “too big a nose.” The original, larger nose and brow, which Codding erased and redrew, are still faintly visible on the sketch to the left. This illustration appeared as Figure 63 in Dr. Cushing’s book Intracranial Tumors: Notes upon a Series of Two Thousand Verified Cases with Surgical-Mortality Percentages Pertaining Thereto (1932).

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10B Surgical Set made for Dr. Cushing by Codman & Shurtleff

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According to a 1924 catalog issued by Boston surgical instrument manufacturer Codman & Shurtleff, these “Cranial and Brain Instruments used by Dr. Harvey Cushing” were made by the company under Cushing’s direction. The set includes a bone drill or trephine, forceps, scissors, and other surgical tools. Look closely, and you can see a small “H.C.” on some of the instrument. This set was donated to the Medical Historical Library by Domenic Esposito, M.D. in 2017.


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11T Dr. Percival Bailey

Read more Beginning in 1919, Dr. Percival Bailey (1892-1973) collaborated with Dr. Cushing in the exploration of the pathology and histology of brain tumors. Bailey, a neurologist who trained in neurosurgery under Cushing, studied the brain tumor registry and created a classification system for brain tumors. Bailey and Cushing partnered to write the book A Classification of the Tumors of the Glioma Group on a Histogenetic Basis with a Correlated Study of Prognosis published in 1926.


This photograph was taken by Walter Boyd. Also shown are a microscope, lantern slides, a glass plate, pathological slides and negatives.

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11B Louise Eisenhardt, Director of the Collection

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Dr. Louise Eisenhardt (1891-1967) was an expert in tumor diagnosis and a trusted colleague of Dr. Cushing, first as his secretary and later as one of the first neuropathologists—a physician who studies diseases of nervous system tissue. In this photograph, Eisenhardt is in her laboratory at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, where she examined, classified, and stored samples for the Brain tumor registry. In 1934, Eisenhardt accompanied the Registry to Yale, where Cushing had retired. She served as director of the Cushing Brain Tumor Registry and the first managing editor of the Journal of Neurosurgery until her death in 1967.

Photograph by Richard U. Light, courtesy of the Harvard Medical School Archives at the Countway Library of Medicine